Ancient, woody elders grace our Earth.
There’s Jomon Sugi, the 2,500-year-old Japanese Cyprus on Japan’s Yakushima island.
The Hundred Horse Chestnut in Sicily has lived anywhere between 2,000 and 4,000 years.
And then there’s California’s Methuselah, an ancient bristlecone pine confirmed to be 4,851 years old. Its exact location is a secret.
(A different bristlecone is pictured here. Methuselah's location is protected)
These old trees aren’t just monoliths — they play a crucial role in the global ecosystem.
Old trees grow slowly, grow large, and stick around for a long time, which means they store carbon dioxide, keeping it from entering the atmosphere.
How do they live so long? The trees have special, undifferentiated cells called meristem cells.
When the tree’s tissue starts to get old, the tree lets it die, and uses meristem cells to create new tissue.
These ancient trees could contain 99% dead tissue, says Sergi Munné-Bosch, a professor at the University of Barcelona who just published a review paper looking at old trees.
In some ways, this cell renewal process means the oldest trees seem to be ageless.
However, old age doesn’t mean it won’t die, Munné-Bosch says. In fact, the older a tree gets, the more vulnerable it is to non-age-related death, like disease or deforestation.
That's why it's important to protect old forests.